A piece in today’s Muncie Star-Press reports that Ball State University (BSU) has turned down freedom-of-information requests to release the report of the professorial panel investigating Eric Hedin’s teaching of intelligent design (ID) and Christianity in his science class. Here’s the official refusal of the Star-Press‘s request:
I suspect the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) will pursue this refusal, whose grounds appear to be, well, a bit flimsy. As the paper reports:
The FFRF and The Discovery Institute, an intelligent design think tank that is supporting physicist Hedin, are criticizing Ball State’s decision to keep the records secret.
There is nothing in the law to prevent the university from disclosing the records, according to Indiana’s Public Access Counselor.
While it is the policy of the state of Indiana that the public is entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of public employees, the university is citing two exceptions to that policy.
First, the personnel files of public employees are excluded from Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act (APRA), except in certain situations such as when an employee is suspended, demoted or discharged.
Ball State is also denying access to the records on grounds they are “deliberative materials” that are “expressions of opinion” and are “communicated for the purpose of decision making,” another exception to APRA.
“The (student) evaluations are used in the promotion, tenure and salary review processes,” Sali Falling, Ball State’s general counsel, said.
My own take in the paper:
Jerry Coyne, a University of Chicago evolutionary biologist, told The Star Press the student evaluations “bear critically on whether the university knew of student complaints about Hedin, which they claim they didn’t, and if so, how long they’ve known about them.” It was Coyne who called FFRF’s attention to a complaint about Hedin’s class.
He doesn’t understand why the review panel’s entire report is closed. What if the panel commented on intelligent design? How does that part of the report violate Hedin’s privacy?
Well, they should have quoted me rather than characterized what I said in the second paragraph, but never mind. We will see what kind of report, if any, Ball State produces. My guess is that they’ll just make a brief announcement of what they’ve done about Hedin’s course. If they don’t make a more general and public statement decrying the teaching of ID, they’ll look bad.
And here’s a conundrum:
Based on his knowledge of the records, Joe Hoage, the Indiana Public Access Counselor, believes the university complied with the law when it denied The Star Press access to the documents.On the other hand, the university would not be breaking the law if it released the records, Hoage said.
I’m betting that the final decision will come down in two weeks, and that Hedin will no longer be allowed to teach the course as a science course. If that happens, you can expect howls of protest from both the Discovery Institute and the benighted folks at BSU who actually seem to like intelligent design, but masquerade their affection as a love of academic freedom.
And, at last, a sensible letter at last to the Star-Press from James Bradley, an actual employee of BSU, the head of Metadata and Digital Initiatives at the School of Art. For some reason known only to the Star-Press, this letter appeared only in the paper version and was omitted from the online version, which surely gets more readers. Given the crazy pro-Hedin and pro-Jesus letters published online, one gets a piscine odor about all this. But at any rate, good for you, Dr. Bradley; you’re an oasis of rationality in a desert of nescience. And it takes a bit of bravery to come forward in this way at a place like BSU. The following is a scan of Bradley’s letter in the paper: